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How Campus Sonar Actually Works

I need to clarify something, just in case there's any confusion. While Campus Sonar employees are indeed a bunch of nerds, (job requirement, for reals) we're not programmers, or software designers. In fact, we don't sell software, or a tool, or a dashboard. I understand that makes us different, and it's hard to compare us to other companies in the industry—because there's no one else like us, yet.


Blog post image for How Campus Sonar Actually WorksCampus Sonar is a specialized social listening agency focused on higher education. Sure, we use software—and make sure we're always using the best stuff on the market—but that's not what our clients come to us for. There are lots of software companies ready to take your money and sell you a tool. But for years I've been hearing that's not what many campuses want. That's because new, fancy software requires lots of training, paying someone to actually use the software, spending time figuring out what to do with the data that comes out of the software, and then repeating the entire cycle when the software company is acquired, or a better one comes along, or when you have to hire someone new. There are some campuses that can totally roll with that (like NC State and their social media strategy hub). But others, particularly small- to medium-size campuses, find that to be a pretty steep hill to climb.

Campus Sonar Is a Strategic Partner for Your Team

We exist for the campus that doesn't want to do this in-house—that's why we call ourselves an agency. While the software we use is crucial to our ability to do our jobs, the value we provide is our expertise, analysis capacity, strategic input, and commitment to innovation. We operate as a strategic partner. In successful client engagement, we're a meaningful contributor to a client's team—as if we're team members on your campus. We do this through two key staff members who are part of every single client relationship, whether short-term or long-term.


Each client is assigned a personal analyst. Right now, Amber and Emily are our analysts, and we hope to add a few more to the team yet this year. The analyst:

  • Uses enterprise-level social listening software to build relevant, contextual queries. They leverage an advanced understanding of Boolean logic and linguistics combined with analysis and reporting templates customized to higher education that we've developed in-house.
  • Provides an analysis framework to unstructured online conversation data. They never deliver a list of online mentions; they sort and categorize data in ways that are relevant to their client's strategic goals.
  • Becomes intimately familiar with their client's online conversation, as they monitor the data for accuracy every day.
  • Creates timely deliverables to highlight insights for their clients.


Each Campus Sonar client has a dedicated strategist. For now, that's Ashley (and more to come, of course!). The strategist:

  • Has extensive higher education industry knowledge. They've sat in the shoes of our clients before and understand their struggles.
  • Conducts a needs analysis at the beginning of each engagement, getting to know the client as if they were a leader on that campus themselves.
  • Translates analyst output into actionable strategic insights for clients. They provide context to the insights, and provide options to turn those insights into action—sharing what they would do if they were in the client's position.
  • Serves as the main point of contact for clients and is involved in regular strategy sessions.


We're not a software company, but the cost of the enterprise social listening software we use is included in the cost of every client engagement. Our clients also receive access to the live, interactive dashboards that power our analysis. While there's no requirement to use them, we provide full data transparency if clients have team members who could use the data (e.g., a social media strategist who replies to engagement opportunities, a crisis management team that needs access to up-to-the-minute conversation insights).

Maybe Campus Sonar Is that Thing You Didn't Know You Needed

We get it. It's tough to visualize an agency doing something that you've never seen done before. We know, because that's what our clients have told us—seriously. We asked Ashley Rains, Assistant Director of Media Relations at Spring Hill College, what she thought about working with us as one of our early campus partners. She said:

"Campus Sonar has been a tremendous help, in terms of engagement, organic branding, and the future of our brand. This is something I think we knew we needed before anyone knew what it was. We didn't know what was out there, but we knew we needed it."

While some might consider this the most confusing client testimonial ever, it totally makes sense to us. Ashley later quipped on Twitter that using this quote was like us saying, "They [campuses] don't know that we [Campus Sonar] know that they don't know. Basically." Yup, sounds about right. She later clarified,

"It can all be so confusing when you're getting started, but the cyclical dynamic created between Campus Sonar and the campuses gives you the ultimate a-ha moment."

Still confused? Don't worry; we'll continue to shed some light on this.

Let's Pull Back the Curtain Even Further

If you're curious, there are at least three ways to peek behind the scenes and get a better idea of how we work.

Follow Campus Sonar on InstagramWe joined Instagram recently. Follow us @CampusSonar to check out the behind-the-scenes action in our daily story. You'll see how our team works with clients, what we're writing, and some occasional snarky office quips. Feel free to interact with us over direct message.

Campus Sonar eBook IconWe're almost done with The Higher Ed Social Listening Handbook (to be released in February), your go-to source for everything related to social listening in higher education. If it's been tricky to visualize what a strategic approach to social listening might look like, this will help (seriously, it's full of pictures). What we explain in the book is basically what we do for our clients every day. If you're subscribed to our monthly email newsletter, you'll receive a free copy of the eBook before it's available to the general public.

Campus Sonar Live Week logoCampus Sonar Live Week is fast approaching! From February 19–23 you'll get the chance to meet our team, some of our clients, and other folks we've worked with. Every day we'll be broadcasting three or four times on a variety of topics, in a variety of formats. And we want you to participate! Tune in live and send us your questions or comments, even if it's just to keep us on our toes. Watch this space, the Brain Waves newsletter, and our social media accounts for more details.

Don't want to miss a single post from Campus Sonar? Subscribe to our monthly Brain Waves newsletter to get the latest and greatest about social listening in higher education delivered right to your inbox.

The post How Campus Sonar Actually Works originally appeared on the Campus Sonar Brain Waves blog.

Liz Gross

Liz Gross is the founder and CEO of Campus Sonar. A recognized expert, data-driven marketer, and higher education researcher, Liz specializes in creating entrepreneurial social media strategies in higher education. She is an award-winning speaker, author, and strategist who was named a 2018 Mover and Shaker by Social Shake-Up Show and a finalist on GreenBook’s 2019 GRIT Future List. Liz has more than 15 years’ experience in higher ed and strategic social listening programs. She received a Ph.D. in Leadership for the Advancement of Learning and Service in Higher Education at Cardinal Stritch University, a master’s degree in educational policy and leadership from Marquette University, and a bachelor’s degree in interpersonal communication from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

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